Tuesday, June 11, 2013

the "yeah-buts"

Mental Health Awareness Month ended in May, and there’s still a large segment of the population unaware. I call them the yeah-buts.

The yeah-buts as I have encountered them over my decades dealing with mental illness are folks who haven’t ever struggled with the stuff themselves, but feel able to tell you what to do about it.

My favorites are the ones who are compelled somehow to get me to the gym. Yes, yes, exercise can help your mood, though it doesn’t always, no matter what the yeah-buts say.

“Yeah, but you’ll feel so much better,” they insist.

“When I’m blindingly depressed, I don’t even want to get out of bed,” I insist. “I don’t want to shower. I don’t want to get dressed. I don’t want to do anything but lay there and focus on feeling like crap.”

“Yeah, but that’s exactly the time you should be getting up and exercising,” they say, usually adding another favorite – “I know I’ve never been depressed, but…”

Right. So if you have no concept of what it feels like, how can you tell me how to fix it? I got news: It’s not fixable. Meds and therapy only go so far. Once an episode begins, you pretty much just have to ride it out. And as soon as it’s over? Guess what? It’s going to come back. Almost nobody gets a one-and-done deal with a depressive episode. If you’re lucky, you can figure out how to make the time between episodes relatively lengthy. Exercise isn’t it, at least not by itself.

The yeah-buts mean well, I know. It’s just like taking advice from an unmarried marriage counselor. They never seem to realize that they’d be much more credible if they’d experienced that which they’re trying to convince you of.

I have a friend who’s a yeah-but. She does at least preface her remarks with “I know I don’t have depression,” which is something of a sop. But she still doesn’t really understand. She’s an expert in another area I struggle with, though, and there I’m all ears every time she wants to tell me something, because I know both that she’s been there personally and that she has academic knowledge as well. And I know she cares, hence the yeah-but-ism. Most yeah-buts do it out of concern for a friend or family member, I’m sure. I think maybe the afflicted just should reinforce the need to find another way to express it. No matter how well my psychiatrist and therapist and friends know me, I am still the expert on me. No ifs, ands or yeah-buts.

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